Bringing up Giuseppe Giacomini (1940-) is a good way to start an argument among opera buffs. Giacomini is possibly the ultimate example of what I so often complain about in these pages—a dramatic tenor whose vocal method is the furthest extreme of the dark, greatly covered, larynx-in-the-boots school of Italian singing—voices perfect for verismo, which is to say melodramatic opera. So, I'm about to indulge myself in inconsistency, do a complete 180, at least in this single instance, and say that Giuseppe Giacomini is a brilliant tenor, and to my taste the greatest of all the dramatic tenors. (Let me say only that I do not consider the nonpareil Franco Corelli a dramatic tenor.)
I think that in the case of Giacomini, if he is unknown to anyone, the first thing to offer is a sample. If you are fond of "Ch'ella mi creda," from La Fanciulla del West, but do not know Giacomini, prepare yourself:
Isn't that amazing? I nearly fell out of my chair the first time I heard it. I do not believe I have ever heard Bb's like that from any tenor before. The power, the richness, the ring; it's positively thrilling. He sounds here almost like Leonard Warren with a tenor range. Absolutely unbelievable, and the style and musicianship are impeccable, as they always are with Giacomini, an intellectual and very well educated musician.
Giuseppe Giacomini is possibly an epicure's taste in the somewhat giddy and show business obsessed world of American opera during the last 30 years. He was not nearly as popular here, sadly, as those tenors who obsessively and instinctively played to the gallery. He was and remains a very strong-minded man; a serious musician with absolutely no time for silliness or show business glitz. He was not a beautiful heart-throb like great Franco Corelli; he was plain: short, half bald, and very near-sighted. He appeared in concert looking exactly like he really does, often right down to the coke-bottle-lens glasses. He was there to sing, not to compete in a glamour contest. Here is a perfect example. Listen to this "Si pel ciel..." with Sherrill Milnes. What you see is what you get. And what you get is brilliant stylistics, musicianship and, of course, voice:
This is dramatic singing at its best. It is very hard to imagine the tenor part sung better, and in fact Otello was his signature role, along with Andrea Chenier.
His career was very largely in Europe, where he was quite popular. He was, for example, a staple at the Vienna Staastsoper, certainly a discriminating house if ever there was one, for fifteen consecutive years. He was enormously popular in Italy, and sang in all the major houses: La Scala, Teatro San Carlo, Teatro Reggio, Opera de Roma, Mantua, Parma, Modena. He sang in major houses outside Italy, not only in Vienna, but in Barcelona, Berlin, Lisbon, many others. It was only in America that he did not fare so well, even though he sang at the Met, The Chicago Lyric, San Francisco and so on. America, at least at that time, was not as susceptible to his studied approach. American audiences were still somewhat dazzled by stereotype and showiness. Also, he did not record much. His kind of voice is much better in the theater than on record, because the high resonances from the fine, thinner edges of the cords have been sacrificed to the thicker vocal folds, resulting in the darker sound that carries well enough in the theater (on most nights) but does not record very well. And of course he never went on TV talk shows or participated in any publicity stunts of any kind. His "outreach," so to speak, was limited to the theater, exactly where he thought it should be. He was what the Spanish call "un hombre serio y formal."
Here is a wonderful rendition, in performance, of "Non Piangere, Liu," from Turandot:
I do not see how this can be faulted in any way.
Such extreme low-larynx singing, spectacular as it can sometimes be, as in the case of Giacomini, does not come without a price. He sang well for a good 25 years, (no small accomplishment!) but eventually he developed a wide wobble in his voice, from the strain to which it had been subjected. He did continue to sing, but the wobble can be disconcerting.
But never mind. At his best, he was wonderful. He is also an admirable human being: gentle, serious, intellectual and reflective. If you can understand Italian, do not miss the four-part interview posted on Youtube, in which he talks at great length about theater, music, and especially opera. He has little competition among tenors for intelligence and musicality, except for Placido Domingo, of course, who is unique and certainly one of the world's great musicians.
Giacomini deserved much more in this country, but his fame is actually growing with time (much of it thanks to Youtube) as more and more people—especially in the U.S.—seem, at last, to be getting it.